“Christmas is often seen as a season of excess. What it ought to be is a poignant season of remembrance. The point of all the food and song and gifts is not some hedonistic, once-a-year immersion in material over-indulgence. The point is to put flesh and expression to joy. If we lose sight of the Christ child’s coming, if we forget the heavenly joy we are trying to embody, then Christmas can easily become a season of mere excess. But when the incarnation is at its heart, then every song, every special meal, every planned event becomes a pageant in which the drama of the heavenly story is lived out. The Christmas festival becomes a tiny taste of eternity, rising up in time.”
Given the times we live in, it requires true intentionality on our part to make the meaning of Christmas the focus in our homes, to keep Jesus as the heartbeat of our holidays. It is all too easy to be swept up in the culture’s material lust for more, belittling Christmas to nothing more than a time of hustle and bustle and satisfying our wants. I know all too well, as this once was the nature of our Christmases. But as our family grew so did our desire to instill meaning in our holidays, to create traditions that would ground us and deepen our ties as a family, to build growing anticipation in all of our hearts as the celebration of the coming of the Christ child draws near. There are 3 courses of action we take to ensure our season is filled with the hope and joy of Christ. Doing these, we found, have been the key to truly magical Christmases, deposited in each of our hearts.
There is something about traditions that knit us as a family. They are rituals that we look forward to fondly and the kids know they can count on; they become part of our family identity and give each member a sense of belonging and pride. This may seem like a long list of traditions, but they are all very do-able. We started our parenting years with only one tradition – just reading the Nativity story on Christmas Eve. Our traditions have slowly increased over the 15 years of parenthood. For young families I recommend adopting one or two new traditions and then growing from there. Please don’t let my list overwhelm you! I’m all about baby steps.
Over the years I have collected Christmas-themed books (mostly used ones from Half Price and Amazon) that we store in the barn, only to be taken out for this season. Ellie and I wrap each one in dollar store wrapping paper in the days following Thanksgiving. This has become one of our cherished mama-daughter traditions. Then, beginning December 1st the kids take turns opening one each afternoon and we pile on the couch together as I read aloud books that resurrect old memories – the warm and fuzziest kinds. Books that point to Jesus, books that inspire us in the joy of giving, and books that are just plain fun.
Then in the dark of each evening with only the light glowing from the fire and the twinkling lights of the tree, we gather around and Dan reads a devotional from Ann Voskamp’s, “Unlocking the Greatest Gift.” I highly recommend this devotional, especially created to be read each December evening to build the anticipation of Jesus’ coming and keep our focus on Him. On Christmas Eve over a candlelit dinner, we read the story of Christ’s coming – from the book of Matthew.
When admiring the glow of the lights from our tree, we discuss all the wondrous symbolism there. The tree representing the cross He gave His all on, the lights representing the one true Light, the evergreen tree representing eternal life, and then there’s the fruit and the candy canes and the star on top of it all – a rich illustration. We fill our home with cinnamon and spruce candles burning, choral and instrumental Christmas music, and the aroma of breads and treats baking in hopes of creating memories they will savor for years to come, memories that add to the richness of home and hint at the wonder of the season.
We keep the World Vision catalog out on our coffee table and ask the kids to choose what they would like to give. Sometimes we buy a goat, and other times we take on a child to sponsor from that point on, adding another member to our family in our hearts. This is the most important gift giving we will do and is priority. We talk to the kids about how this is truly giving to Jesus, as it is indeed His birthday.
Cinnamon salt dough ornaments and garland are so simple and satisfying to make. We thoroughly enjoy rolling the dough in our hands while the cinnamon aroma fills the house and using cookie cutters to shape them while ‘A Muppet Christmas Carol’ or ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ plays their familiar scenes in the background.
When we travel during the holidays we listen to the audiobook of Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol.’ This classic is worth listening to every year, and is written so that it captivates everyone and opens our eyes to see people and Christmas differently.
Another simple tradition of ours (usually done just days before Christmas when the kids are crazy with excitement and could seriously use a job) is to buy a gingerbread house village set and loads of white frosting, already made and ready for fun. Each of our kids are in charge of decorating one of the homes and we set them all on a piece of plywood so that a somewhat spacious neighborhood can be created complete with an ice skating pond, streets, and snowmen.
Endless geometric structures can be built just from toothpicks and green/red gumdrops! I love to sit back and watch the creativity unfold with this one. Dads get into it as much as anyone.
In order to have a meaningful Christmas season, and to have the time and energy to do any of the above, we have to be intentional in protecting our schedule. There are so many places we could go and things to see at this time, and if we’re not careful we’re racing all over only to come home frazzled and overwhelmed by all the wrapping and baking that need to be done. In order to simplify, we say yes to only one non-family party, I do almost all of the shopping online, and enlist kids as well as dad to help with the wrapping and baking. If your kids are old enough to help, this is not only more efficient, but are some of our favorite parts of the season as we work alongside each other with Christmas music filling the air.
“Don’t have guilt over saying no – because every no is saying a better yes.” ~ Ann Voskamp
“Although our culture seems to worship being busy, constant activity will slowly undermine our perspective on life and kill our own souls.” ~Sally Clarkson
Battle of Materialism
Maintaining an atmosphere of giving rather than materialism is a vital component of a Jesus-filled life, and it will likely be carried on throughout the year. Years ago we took our son to the toy stores before Christmas and birthdays, allowing him to hungrily peruse the toy aisles, planning his wish lists. As you can imagine, the lists were ridiculously long. Even though he received more than plenty of gifts, it was difficult for him to be content as other toys he longed for were lingering in the back of his mind. Once we made it a point to stop exposing him to all the things, we had a happier child. Occasionally we allow our kids to browse worthwhile toys, books, kayaks, hiking gear, swings, and board games on certain websites to have a say in what they would prefer, all while monitoring the effects on their hearts and keeping it all in check. But greed takes over when we allow them to peruse the toy catalogs and aisles.
Over the last couple years my eyes have been opened to the effect that clutter has on all of us. It increases anxiety, brain fog, and is a weight on parent and child alike, whether the child fully realizes it or not. Clutter has become less of a constant battle in our home since I’ve learned much of it is an issue of guarding our children’s hearts as well as our own – it’s more a battle of materialism. This statement hit home with me, “Possessions don’t make you rich. They make you possessive.” Once I personally had the breakthrough of realizing how much heaviness I carried from all the stuff in our home and crammed in our barn (items I thought we needed for optimal living), and donated stuff by the truckloads, I was shocked at the new level of contentment in us all. The kids are surprisingly eager to give to kids who have less once they become aware of how others live. God has placed us as gatekeepers over our homes so that they can be a restful, life-giving haven to all, and as guards over our children’s hearts over what may weigh them down.
Reading books aloud such as “Little House on the Prairie” and looking at the World Vision catalogs regularly have helped them to grasp how much is enough, and even to be turned off at the thought of too much. Regularly sending letters and gifts to the African girl we sponsor helps instill the habit of giving and awareness of others.
This is still a process for us to be sure, but for the most part we are free of the constant lust for more and that is a mighty good feeling. But most of all, we long for the way in which we celebrate to point to Him, to lavish love on Him, to bring a smile. It is – after all – His birthday.
“So Christmas, for us, was not simply a season of material experience. It was a season of renewal – because ultimately, the point of the Christian faith is that God has come to renew and redeem. The ending of the biblical story is a wedding feast, a Kingdom, a mysterious city with streets of gold and gates of pearl and jeweled foundation stones. This is the reality at which our Christmas celebrations hint. This is the real future we glimpse in the color and beauty, the feasting, laughter, and music of our most marvelous celebrations. Our remembrance is a kind of promise, our spoken hope in all the beauty that is to come. So let the feasting begin!”